I’m sitting two rows behind the home dugout on the first base side on Autograph Session and Home Run Derby day, the day before the Eastern League All-Star game in New Britain, Connecticut. A near 90-degree sun is beating down on a glorious summer day. A huge throng of fans snake from the hallway below the stands, up a stairwell in left field and then back down in front of the third base dugouts waiting to procure autographs from the Eastern League Stars seated behind tables along the skinned dirt track running from dugout to dugout. The line proves far too long for these old legs to navigate.
Five B-Mets are among the All-Stars, two, Cesar Puello and Allan Dykstra, who will be participating in the Home Run Extravaganza. Here’s the Program description of each B-Met All-Star.
Cesar Puello: OF has been having a breakout season in 2013. Puello has all the tools you look for in a major prospect and has been displaying them all season. The La Romana, Dominican Republic native is the #14 prospect in the Mets system according to mlb.com.
Allan Dykstra: IB The San Diego California native and former Wake Forest Demon Deacon was a 1st round pick of the Padres in 2008. Dykstra spent 3years in the minors with San Diego before being traded to the Mets in 2011. He was previously drafted by the Boston Red Sox before choosing to attend WakeForest.
Josh Rodriguez: INF The Houston, Texas native and former Rice Owl was a 2nd round pick of the Cleveland Indians in the 2006 MLB Draft. Rodriguez signed with the Mets in December of 2012. He has been previously selected to the California League All-Star team and is making his second appearance in the Eastern League All-Star classic.
Logan Verrett: RHP The Corpus Christi native and former Baylor Bear was drafted by the Mets in the 3rd round of the 2011 MLB Draft. Verrett has moved quickly through the Mets system reaching the Double-A level in only his second professional season.
Jeff Walters: RHP Walters is in his first season at the Double-A level. The Orlando, Florida native and former Georgia Bulldog was drafted by the Mets in the 7th round of the 2010 MLB Draft.
In many ways the Homerun Derby was more like a Contact Hitting Derby. Sandwich boards with large 10’s, 20’s, and 30’s were stationed one behind the other beginning just beyond the infield grass in each outfield position. A ball hit in the air landing beyond the 10 board but before the 20 earned 10 points and so on and so on. Balls that cleared the outfield wall scored 50.
The scoring arrangement worked against the B-Met power guys Puello and Dykstra. Both were more in tune for a HR Derby where only HR totals were tallied. Puello was the first Eastern League slugger to put a buzz in the crowd blasting a shot that slammed the scoreboard in deep left-center that temporarily knocked out the posted point total readings.
Puello was the first legitimate Double-A star to hit earning 180 points, a rather pedestrian total. Dykstra followed closely behind netting 200.
Caleb Joseph, a catcher on the Bowie Baysox was the eventual winner running up a very impressive score of 310. Steven Sousa Jr. from the Harrisburg Senators, the final Eastern League slugger to hit, provided some competitive excitement. With one swing to go, Sousa had 270 points needing a homerun to win the title. His blast to straight-away-centerfield climbed three-quarters of the way up the 25 foot high wall earning 30 points and leaving him 10 shy of Joseph.
I especially enjoyed watching nearly 50 young baseball enthusiasts stretched across the outfield shagging the fly balls. Some of the kids couldn’t have been more than third graders. Swarms of kids navigated beneath the moon balls that rocketed off the sluggers’ bats. Line shots sometimes ripped the gloves off the kids’ hands and left me with a lump in my throat, but everyone seemed to escape without serious injury.
Tuesday’s grand weather was no so grand on All-Star Wednesday. Intermittent rains splattered a capacity crowd (8,633) throughout much of the contest. But, the game had all the pageantry of a summer classic, incredible singers, zany promotions and some dazzling defensive baseball. It was tough times for the home-standing Eastern squad including our B-Met heroes.
Puello, Dykstra and Rodriguez all started in the 5-0 loss but went a combined 0-for-7 with only Puello reaching base when he was hit by a pitch. Puello made a defensive gem in the visitor’s fourth uncorking a rocket launcher from right field throwing out Altoona’s Jake Cunningham at the plate. Cunningham looked to be over half way between third and home when Puello released the ball. In fact, Cunningham was so certain of scoring, he didn’t slide. Puello’s cannon stunned Cunningham and equally amazed a roaring 8,000 plus.
The Western offensive damage was done with the first three batters of the game. Hard throwing Eastern starting pitcher Anthony Ranaudo had command issues walking Brian Goodwin and Numan Romero, the first two hitters he faced. Javier Herrera crushed the first pitch he saw driving a shot over the mammoth green wall in straight-away center field for three Western runs.
The West also got to our Logan Verrett touching the B-Met righty for their final two runs in the fourth. Verrett surrendered four hits in the inning, but profited from teammate Puello’s run saving throw to the plate. B-Met closer Jeff Walters pitched a scoreless ninth inning for East.
(Photo credit: Gordon Donovan)